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Samsung Galaxy S7 review: This is the phone to beat

Battery life is long, performance swift

Other than the camera quality, battery life was my No. 1 concern when using the S7 while Euro-tripping. I was often out from 9 a.m. until midnight, and didn't always carry a bulky charger or heavy external battery pack, because that gets annoying. Luckily, I didn't need to. The battery lasted through a full day of heavy use.

Over in San Francisco, my colleagues ran the S7 through our standard CNET lab tests, a looping video downloaded to the phone, played in airplane mode.

The S7 averaged 16 hours in three tests, which is one of the longest-running results we've seen for any phone.

In comparison, the iPhone 6S scored 10.5 hours on the exact same test. I'd still expect to charge it once a day, but would be more confident making it through a late night without dying. If you want a larger battery, there's always the S7 Edge.

You can cast off the cord and charge the S7 and S7 Edge (pictured) on a wireless charging pad.

James Martin/CNET

During my week gallivanting around with the S7, it operated smoothly and never lagged, and games played on its top-of-the-line processor with ease. (See our performance chart below.)

A few things the S7 could do better

  • Less plastic-looking selfies, toned-down screen flash.
  • A speedier, more accurate fingerprint reader like the Nextbit Robin's side-button reader (this wasn't bad, the Robin's is just that good).
  • Figure out how to add a removable battery on a metal design (LG did). For you, that means swapping in fresh batteries if you want to keep the phone a long time or increase its resale value.
  • Make sure the phone's right-side power button doesn't turn on in a purse; this drains battery faster (kudos again to the Nextbit Robin).
  • Make the screen more readable outside on overcast and sunny days. Microsoft/Nokia Lumia phones have a filter; Samsung should, too.
  • Support thicker gloves. In chilly London and Berlin, I had to choose between frozen fingers or my lined leather gloves. Samsung says the screen automatically supports thinner gloves.

More stuff you need to know

Moar storage!: Samsung's return to the microSD card slot meant I could load the S7 with a movie to watch offline, and save all those photos and videos to a card instead of to the more limited phone memory -- you can also transfer over an app you download from Google Play. A microSd card also means you won't have to buy a pricier S7 model to get more storage. In that sense, an extra 64GB from the SD card costs you only about $20, AU$65 or £12 -- five times less than an Apple storage upgrade costs.

Water-resistant once again: I wouldn't normally worry about a regular phone corroding from rain, so London and Berlin's frequent downpours didn't prove a thing. I did not and will not drop the S7 into a toilet to test this. Just, no. Anyway, "waterproofing" is more beneficial if someone throws you in a pool as a joke or you take gloaty photos in a hot tub. Or this:

View full gallery
Luke Westaway/CNET

Samsung Pay is still awesome: This isn't new, but who cares? I still used it all the time in London and Berlin, so that makes it important. Samsung Pay one-ups Apple Pay and Google Pay by letting you use the phone as a credit card at any card-accepting merchant (it works with old-fashioned swipe readers, no need for an NFC reader). That made it super simple to buy coffees and train tickets without having to dig for my wallet or withdraw more local currency when I ran out. Here's everything you need to know about Samsung Pay.

Wireless charging remains: Like Samsung's 2015 phones, you can charge the S7 wirelessly (it supports all major standards). Same goes for quick-charging from the wired charger, which is included.

"Old" chargers will work: The S7 uses the Micro-USB charging port, not the new Type-C port that some phones, like the LG G5, have. This means that you can use any chargers that you already happen to have lying around, but it won't do all the tricks of the new standard -- that's not a deal-breaker by any means. Adoption here will be gradual.

How happy are we to see the return of the storage slot? So happy!

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Not a Nexus: Just a reminder, future Android updates won't come on day 1, unlike on a Nexus phone. Based on past experience, expect a six-month wait.

Long-term life: Battery life blows it out of the water now, when the S7 is all fresh and new, but phones can't hold the same charge as they age. Speed also slows down over time, especially after loading the phone with zillions of apps and photos. We'll keep a close eye on this one to see how it does down the line.

Call quality: Calls sounded great when my colleagues tested the S7 in San Francisco with Verizon's network. Calls didn't drop, they said, and audio maintained a more balanced, warm sound.

Virtual reality perk: The Gear VR headset was free for those who bought an S7 or Edge before March 18, $99 otherwise. It's way better than Google Cardboard.

Versus other phones

Sizing up the S7, S7 Edge, iPhone 6S Plus and Google Nexus 6P.

Josh Miller/CNET


iPhone 6S: The S7 bests the iPhone 6S in low-light camera shots; battery life; Android 6.0 software features (like Google Now and built-in Doze battery savings); Samsung Pay (which works where Google Pay and Apple Pay don't); and the microSD card slot, which makes storing media cheaper than buying a phone with larger storage. More comparisons here!

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge: The two have everything in common except for the S7's smaller battery and screen size, and its conventional display versus the Edge's curved screen (plus "edge" software navigation bar). The more interesting Edge is the splurge: more distinctive, but at a cost. Read up on the S7 Edge.

Google Nexus 6P: I will never stop loving the Nexus 6P as a value-for-money phone, and you won't do wrong buying it. The S7, however, is better in all areas -- except one. A Nexus phone is the first one Google will bless with Android updates. Samsung owners could wait up to six months or longer. See the specs-off!

Lgg5batteryremoved.jpg
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Jason Cipriani/CNET

LG G5: The G5 brings some serious innovation to the table, and its removable battery thumbs LG's nose at Samsung. Still, the Galaxy S7 is better. I compare the G5 and S7 face-to-face here.

Prices: Not cheap, but worth it

The S7 starts at $650, £569 and AU$1,149. That isn't cheap, but I think it's worth the investment. Compared to 2015's iPhone 6S, the new Galaxy S7 has the advantage: The might of Android's software excellence, that gorgeous design, a lot of customization options and top hardware guts.

You could also pony up more to upgrade to the S7 Edge if you value the bigger 5.5-inch screen, the larger battery and the seductive waterfall screen design.

Specs and all that jazz

Love specs and data? Here you go: the S7's benchmark performance and specs, compared to rival phones.

Samsung Galaxy S7
2,323
5,429
29,031
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
2,370
5,493
28,896
Apple iPhone 6S
2,527
4,404
27,698
Apple iPhone 6S Plus
2,403
4,240
28,080
Google Nexus 6P
1,286
4,313
24,224
OnePlus X
904
2,552
17,369

Legend:

Geekbench 3 Single-Core
Geekbench 3 Multi-Core
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

The Galaxy S7 versus Apple's iPhone 6S, LG G5 and the Google Nexus 6P.

Galaxy S7 takes on the competition


Samsung Galaxy S7 LG G5 Apple iPhone 6S Google Nexus 6P
Display size, resolution 5.1-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.3-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels 4.7-inch; 1,334x750 pixels 5.7-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 576ppi 554ppi 326ppi 515ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.6x2.70.3 in. 5.88x2.91x0.30 in. 5.4x2.6x0.28 in. 6.3x3.1x0.28 in.
Dimensions (Millimeters) 142.4x69.6x7.9 mm 149.4x73.9x7.7 mm 138x67x7.1 mm 159x78x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.4 oz.; 152 g 5.61 oz.; 159 g 5 oz.; 143 g 6.3 oz.; 178 g
Mobile software Android 6.0 Marshmallow Android 6.0 Marshmallow Apple iOS 9 Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 12-megapixel 16-megapixel, 8-megapixel wide-angle 12-megapixel 12.3-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture 4K TBA 4K 4K
Processor 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 820 processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor Apple A9 chip (64-bit) 2GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Storage 32GB, 64GB (varies by region) 32GB 16GB, 64GB, 128GB 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
RAM 4GB 4GB 2GB 3GB
Expandable storage 200GB 2TB None None
Battery 3,000mAh (nonremovable) 2,800mAh (removable) 1,715mAh (nonremovable) 3,450mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor Home button Home button Home button Back cover
Connector Micro-USB USB-C Lightning USB-C
Special features Water resistant Pull-out battery, two rear cameras 3D Touch interface "Pure" Android
Price off-contract (USD) AT&T: $695, Sprint: $650, T-Mobile: $670, Verizon: $672, US Cellular: $672 TBA $649 (16GB); $749 (64GB); $849 (128GB) $499 (32GB); $549 (64GB); $649 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £569 TBA £539 (16GB); £619 (64GB); £699 (128GB) £449 (32GB); £499 (64GB); £579 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,149 TBA AU$1,079 (16GB); AU$1,229 (64GB); AU$1,379 (128GB) AU$899 (32GB); AU$999 (64GB); AU$1,099 (128GB)

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